Commentary: Did Founding Fathers intend to create a nanny state?

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UPDATE: On Friday, Congress agreed to delay implementation of the light bulb standards until next October. House Republicans took the initiative, saying they're trying to head off more government interference in people's lives.

When I went to the hardware store recently to stock up on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, I bought the kind with double the life. I plan to stretch my supply as long as I can, because this particular variety of light bulb will soon become obsolete. As of Jan. 1, it will be illegal for U.S. manufacturers to make 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. (Lower-wattage incandescent bulbs will be phased out between 2012 and 2014.)

I am left wondering: why is the government intervening in this?

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act which mandated more efficient light bulbs, leading to the eventual demise of the incandescent light bulbs in favor of those silly squiggly things known as compact fluorescent lamps.

That was the same legislation that greatly expanded the ethanol mandate — and we all know the trouble that has caused livestock producers because of its effects on corn prices.

When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, did they intend for Congress to get involved in the type of products we buy? Is Congress supposed to pick winners and losers in the marketplace?

I say this in light of another matter: The U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed regulations on child labor on farms.

The proposed regulations set restrictions on the type of agricultural work that can be done by youth under the age of 16. For instance, the regulations would prohibit them from “operating or assisting to operate” farm machinery over 20 PTO horsepower, working at elevations over 6 feet, or working near manure-storage areas. 

The regulations do not apply to sons or daughters of the farm’s owner.  However, it will be more difficult to recruit nieces, nephews and children in the community.

Criticism of the proposed regulations reached a point in mid-December where U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack felt compelled to respond.

“We all know that kids benefit from good old-fashioned farm work,” Vilsack said. “It’s a longtime way of life that has helped make this country strong, and it teaches kids lessons that last a lifetime.

“However, statistics show that while only 4 percent of working youth are in the agricultural sector, 40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment, or facilities related to agriculture. That’s way too high. We don’t want to blur the line between teaching kids about a good day’s hard work and putting them in situations more safely handled by adults,” Vilsack added.

Interestingly, Vilsack also had to explain the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s intentions — or non-intentions — when it comes to regulating dust on farms.

“EPA is not now, nor has it ever proposed regulating dust,” he said in comments posted on the USDA’s blog site.

Perhaps the child-labor regulations or the dust regulations are not as onerous as first reported. Yet, it does seem that the number of regulations coming out of Washington has picked up in recent years, leading to the question: Did the Founding Fathers really intend all of this?




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Wisconsin  |  December, 16, 2011 at 10:31 AM

I question whether this report includes just children actually working on farms or also includes accident with younger children that are present on farms and not working. The death of a toddler in an accident should not be included because they are not exercising jusgement of danger and that ability to judge risk is central to this arguement.

WI  |  December, 16, 2011 at 11:26 AM

With regard to the light bulb legistlation, I question which corporation(s) stood to benefit from the enforced need to now purchase the replacement CFL's. It's just another example of the Central Planners picking the new winners.

Washington  |  December, 21, 2011 at 04:24 PM

The question, "What did the Founding Fathers really intend?" has limited value. I'm sure they didn't intend for massive farms of thousands of acres with only 2% of the population farming. Ask Jefferson. They didn't intend for all of the incredible changes and intrusions that modern technology effects in our current lives. The scene is totally different than 1776. Our Founding Fathers weren't omniscient or perfect. Change is inevitable and technology has changed farming and society in ways they could never have anticipated. Thus need for new laws that govern our lives. Another point, Did they intend slavery? Yes they did. Did that need to change? Yes it did and that change cost Americans hundreds of thousands of lives in the bloodiest (civil) war this country ever saw. If our Founding Fathers were beyond reproach, they would have wiped out slavery in the beginning and prevented that horrible war. And so it goes.

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